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BEIJING (Reuters) - The United States has flouted trade rules with an inquiry into intellectual property and China will defend its interests, Vice Premier Liu He told U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a telephone call on Saturday, Chinese state media reported.

FILE PHOTO: Containers are seen at the Yangshan Deep Water Port, part of the Shanghai Free Trade Zone, in Shanghai, China February 13, 2017. REUTERS/Aly Song

The call between Mnuchin and Liu, a confidante of President Xi Jinping, was the highest-level contact between the two governments since U.S. President Donald Trump announced plans for tariffs on up to $60 billion of Chinese goods on Thursday.

The deepening rift has sent a chill through financial markets and the corporate world as investors predicted dire consequences for the global economy should trade barriers start going up.

Several U.S. chief executives attending a high-profile forum in Beijing on Saturday, including BlackRock Inc’s Larry Fink and Apple Inc’s Tim Cook, urged restraint.

In his call with Mnuchin, Liu, a Harvard-trained economist, said China still hoped both sides would remain “rational” and work together to keep trade relations stable, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

U.S. officials say an eight-month probe under the 1974 U.S. Trade Act has found that China engages in unfair trade practices by forcing American investors to turn over key technologies to Chinese firms.

However, Liu said the investigation report “violates international trade rules and is beneficial to neither Chinese interests, U.S. interests nor global interests”, Xinhua cited him as saying.

In a statement on its website, the office of the U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said it had filed a request - at the direction of Trump - for consultations with China at the World Trade Organization to address “discriminatory technology licensing agreements”.

China’s commerce ministry expressed regret at the filing on Saturday, and said China had taken strong measures to protect the legal rights and interests of both domestic and foreign owners of intellectual property.

COUNTER MOVES

During a visit to Washington in early March, Liu had requested Washington set up a new economic dialogue mechanism, identify a point person on China issues, and deliver a list of demands.

The Trump administration responded by telling China to immediately shave $100 billion off its record $375 billion trade surplus with the United States. Beijing told Washington that U.S. export restrictions on some high-tech products are to blame.

“China has already prepared, and has the strength, to defend its national interests,” Liu said on Saturday.

Firing off a warning shot, China on Friday declared plans to levy additional duties on up to $3 billion of U.S. imports in response to U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum, imposed after a separate U.S. probe.

Zhang Zhaoxiang, senior vice president of China Minmetals Corp [CHMIN.UL], said that while the state-owned mining group’s steel exports to the U.S. are tiny, the impact could come indirectly.

“China’s direct exports

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